The $64,000 Question


We know that many readers are as much on tenterhooks as Adrian and the Alpha Global team, but the coming hours will continue to be frustrating. Supporting the voyage is a truly international team and a mass of frustratingly conflicting information. Adrian is coping with the frustration but the tension aboard Barrabas must be crushing – all those sea miles successfully behind him, so few still left ahead and so very few affected by ice, but time rapidly running out until winter returns. Although the Church of Global Warming would have us believe that a bikini clad girl on a surfboard could breeze through the Arctic, the reality is very different. The Arctic remains a bitterly cold and forbiding place that does not forgive mistakes.

This is the Devil’s Question

The AGX team is faced with the Devil’s Question. Western Arctic Marine Operations HQ in Murmansk is currently handling 47 vessels in the iced section of the Northern Sea Route. Some of these vessels are held in ice and icebreakers will provide assistance to them. So while its a hectic day for the Alpha Global team its also a very hectic day for WAMOHQ. The crew of a Dutch yacht that had been hoping to make a transit this year, as third time lucky, have given up and left their boat in port while they fly home and hope for next year.

The three small merchant ships that Adrian was due to join up with are steaming in a slow circle around the RV point while they wait for further information and the icebreaker.

Due in to the Port of Tiksi is a large timber carrier that is able to take Barrabas as deck cargo through Proliv Vil’kitskogo to a port on the other side of the frustratingly narrow section of thick ice.

Just to twist the knife a few more turns, the latest satellite images from the MDA/KSAT Radarsat show a virtually clear inshore channel West. Adrian’s current position is approximately at the red dot. The blue course is currently completely ice free other than the occasional drift ice. Heading North and West on the blue course, the image shows more significant drift ice on the red course, but still navigable for Adrian and Barrabas. The Western end of the route is reported to be ice free. On the face of it Adrian has a route home. As the image shows, there is even a potential short cut through the tongue of ice but the longer blue course follows clear water and Adrian’s short visual and radar horizon makes that a safer bet.

What firmly twists the knife is the expectation of the wind backing to North over the next few hours. This is leading to pessimistic assessments for the deep water NSR and could mean that ice sweeps back into the shallow inshore channel.